It is conference time for me. I attended two conferences and a daylong meeting a couple of weeks ago. It was not my wisest decision, but it is hard to say no to amazing opportunities and I do love to talk in front of a crowd. To make matters worse I was not fully prepared. The speaking preparation was fine (well, you tell me, if you were there), that is not where the lack of preparedness came in. I didn’t prepare to squeeze every ounce of value I could out of these conferences. I have two more conferences this year and I plan to practice what I preach next time!
There are some steps you can take to ensure that the money you spend on conferences goes for more than just CE credits.
- Have a strategy. Why are you attending this conference? What do you want to take away? Look at the agenda and download the app ahead of time. Peruse the sponsor list so you know the most important vendors to connect with, not just who has the best SWAG. Plan ahead to meet people. Do not say “See you there” or “We’ll just find a corner while we are there” – get the schedule and make a plan. Then if things get messed up at least you two are already a priority for one another.
- Don’t plan other work. Focus, be in the moment, be ready for the spontaneous extra value that happens in the hallways. Set your out-of-office reply and work on email in the evening, or not until you head to the airport for your flight home.
- Make notes on all of the cards and fliers you pick up. Then review those notes that evening if you don’t stay out too late (BONUS TIP: Don’t stay out too late) or in the morning with a fresh cup of coffee. Make sure you understand your scribbles so that when you review your notes back in the office you don’t scratch your head and wonder what you meant.
- Be prepared to use your phone if folks don’t have their business cards or if they mention it is their last one. You can snap a photo, pop it into Evernote or your CRM, and you leave the impression you really want to go the extra mile to connect.
- Follow up quickly. I always think I will remember people forever, but the reality is I can sometimes find a misplaced card and have no idea who it is! Embarrassing to admit, but true. When I connect quickly it helps me solidify the memory of my interaction with that person.
- Don’t drink too much, unless it’s water. You will have some wonderful conversations late in the evening, but if you are too tipsy your memory of them will be shaky. Even if you are exhausted when you get to the room you can jot down notes – but if you are drunk, it is a whole new level of challenge.
- Bring your own snacks. Not every conference serves food on your schedule. I find if I get too hungry then I want to take on the snack buffet like Cookie Monster and it isn’t pretty! You will make better choices if you stick to your schedule.
- Bring breakfast if you need to. I pack oatmeal for an early breakfast. If I get up at 6 to work out and breakfast isn’t until 8, I am very likely to roll over go back to sleep and wait for breakfast rather than exercise on an empty stomach. By the end of a season of conferences that can get pretty ugly.
- Bring your own water bottle (or find the SWAG ASAP!). Having my own water bottle helps me keep track of how much I am actually drinking and keeps me from continually visiting the coffee station. Which leads to tip #10.
- Don’t drink all the coffee offered! This one is definitely for me. I recently attended a conference that did not have coffee at every break. They said it was to keep the price down for attendees. I found it a gift from the conference gods because I wasn’t habitually sucking down coffee. I slept better. I wasn’t scarfing mints after every cup to keep coffee breath at bay, and I felt much better overall at the end of the conference.
- Pace yourself, but don’t wimp out. I want you to be true to your needs – especially my introvert friends who get exhausted by these large group events. But I want you to stretch yourself. You are here for a reason, make a strategy and push yourself to follow through.
What are your conference tips for success? I know I have missed some, and I am always ready to learn how to get the most out of the time and money spent. I am headed to NAPFA, ACPlanners, and FPA Chapter Leaders conferences so let me know if you’ll be there.